Suffering the locked down blues in your home? You are not alone. Longing too for the moments when you felt the freedom, power and pulse of the planet in the mountains, the oak woodlands, the savannahs, and the coastal forests? I imagine many of you like me love to be outside, explore new environments, enjoy new cultures and experiences. So, I have a question for you. In your nature adventures (near and far) can you recall one special moment — once stepping back and just marveling at a tree? Great, #MeToo!

Trees are a wonder. They simply stand tall and proud in one singular, solitary place their entire lives. Imagine that for just one exhalation (exultation), inhalation. How many of us during these COVID19 days can now truly appreciate the truth, tone, and temperance of a tree?

What patience… what endurance… what resilience, acceptance, peace, and calm, the tree must have, right?— to accomplish this unimaginable (to me) feat…to stay rooted in one place, not just for a couple months, but for one’s entire life!!! This reflection got me thinking… perhaps the naturally resonant energy emanating from the forest is so positive and pure, precisely because the trees stand still. Now forced to remain rooted in our homes, is it possible that we could use this time of solidarity in solitude to recalibrate our natural resonance, remember our natural life purpose, and re-connect to Our Planet? What if you closed your eyes and for a moment, tapped into your creative mind, challenged yourself to remember the smell, the detail, the light, the ambience, the texture, the tone, the feeling you had in front of your special tree? Can you remember what it was like to be still, to be grounded and connected, rooted next to your tree and yet still free?  The good news is that you can take a virtual walk in your woods and refresh, recreate, regenerate, re-emerge, anytime you need… We are supremely fortunate that way as a species. We are conscious; we can dream and imagine and control our response to our current reality with our thoughts…and with our intentions, create new internal realities to endure the crazy world externalities.   

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Back to Reality

I recently learned that in my home in the Italian Alps the number of those affected in our little valley jusRThe t climbed today to 700 and the death toll is now at 82. My mom lives in the Newport/Irvine County COVID 19 hotspot in California. And, one of my brothers and family are Staying in Place in their New Jersey home- also a hotspot. So, be sure I share with you, your pain and grief also in writing this piece. And that said, I do believe the way through this dark, scary night is by both honoring our sacred sorrow and igniting our inner hope, and in that way recognizing the greater truth of our current global chaos-crisis and opportunity.

Could it be that amazing grace is now leading us home? Families are forced to face (mirare– look at the wonder and miracle of) each other—cook, clean, play together– contribute to the family tribe. Is it possible that this global pandemic is forcing us as an entire human civilization to re-root ourselves to the people and in the place we call home and to expand our view of home and connection to include every living being on earth? Remember Pope Francis’ Laudato Si? In the silent peace that follows the pain, are we beginning to see the re-growth of healthy tree branches and the re-sprouting of barren winter stems with new spring buds outside our home? Truth be told…Spring is still happening… and now. Mother Nature is active outside our doors… breathing cleaner air, sprouting upward into clearer skies, singing more robust and noise-cancelled bird songs, emerging from snow-covered havens into crisper, richer light.

At the same time COVID 19 is locking down, shutting down, and slowing down human civilization in her tracks. We are beginning again to actually notice spring, to long for that connection to nature, even as on average in the developed world we spent 90% of our time (pre-COVID19), indoors. Why is it that we only really appreciate something or someone when she’s gone or unattainable (like Avatar’s unubtainium)? We are a crazy species. However, the good news is — this plague will Pass-over and a new Easter season, a new Eid will come. And, just like other moments in history, like the Black Plague, a new re-birth, a new Renaissance of creativity and intelligence and connection to ourselves- to one another and to the natural world, will return.

Yes, these are tumultuous and trying times. I am with you. But these are also exiting and truly transformative times— as every level and lever of society is being disrupted… to regenerate itself. Nature has now forced us to evolve. And in this moment, we can learn a lot about building resilience from nature – from our fellow mates in the biosphere – the other 8.7 million species, who have adapted to a changing planet over 3.8 billion years. We are not unique in our Homo sapiens growing pains. Every other species been forced at one point or another to figure it out—to survive– to adapt to massive disruptions in their environments and epic natural disasters, like our current pandemic. So, there is a lot of wisdom about how to survive in the wild kingdom. (If you’d like to explore further, during COVID 19 I am posting a podcast with clips from a book I am writing called Naturally Intelligent by Design– 365 days and ways that animals adapt to and thrive in their changing world, complete with exercises for families to do together.)

And, in the spirit of “Combatting COVID19 with Compassion” (a campaign NI Media is launching with Ricky Kej, Earth Day, WHO, and partners) this Easter Week; I would like to dedicate this article to all those affected by COVID-19. May we be happy, healthy, and whole. OK, I now offer you a few of my reflections on Thriving Globally from my California redwood grove family home to your family home. I believe this the perfect moment to literally stop and listen to the natural drumbeat of the earth and to remember the lyrics of the forest trees–who must remain rooted in place with branches held high during every tumultuous storm. I hope these insights help you better ground– safely and serenely into your current home situation, as we—the global forest—stay standing.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

The Tree

First, when I speak of the tree, imagine I am speaking about your special tree (above) and the over 60,000 species of perennial (persistently growing) elongated wood stem plants, worldwide. The many species of trees in many forests have evolved from Archeopteris spp. (416-358 million years ago)and adapted to ecosystems spanning the earth from the Ocean to the Mountain. When I refer generically to the tree, I am alluding to an entire group of living organisms with the potential (due to the timeless telomeres at the end of their plant cells) to grow infinitely and to live eternally. I am referring to over 3 trillion living stems rooted to Planet Earth today, numbering more than the stars in the Milky Way. That said, these perennial plants dominated many ecosystems before humans settled; and have lost until today 50% of their global tree population since we started building urban jungles. The greater tragedy is that accompanying human development and deforestation, over 50% of nature’s wildlife- many resident in these forests, have also disappeared—gone — not fishing, but extinct. The disappearance of Our Planet’s Garden of Eden is clearly accelerating. Thus, perhaps Nature Is Speaking… and it behooves us to listen to what the forest has to teach us about reconciling with one another and nature in a new way-every day, so we all thrive into the future, together.

Seven Life Lessons from the Tree

Anyone who claims that they are thriving right now in this moment of turmoil is not being 100% truthful. We are all in some ways suffering from physical isolation and the disruption of our lives and work. And, these times of chaos are the tides of our times, driven by the storms that make the tree’s roots stronger and stems straighter, revealing true resilience and character. If you really spend time in the forest and get to know a forest grove, I have discovered you will notice many things. Their stems are not perfectly straight, especially when they are younger trees…. And the young saplings, well, they are quite spindly, weak, and vulnerable looking. Fire scars abound. Most every mature redwood tree has some charred portion (usually on the downward wind side of the tree), where a fire has burned and smoldered, and tried and tormented and tested the tree’s strength and resilience. The older the redwood trees get and the thicker their bark skin, the less vulnerable they become to those ground level disturbances. They even self-prune the lower branches to keep their green growth points in the upper canopy where the light shines and higher intelligence lives. It also seems that their stems straighten; as they establish a broader base of stronger roots into their fluffy, duffy dark forest home soil.

Lying for hours next to the mother tree in the center of the next generation grove in the eerie creaking and softly swaying sounds… oh the stories the trees will tell, the life lessons we have to learn, while the trees we continue to burn. There are so many laws of nature we have forgotten… and interdependent connections to nature we have allowed to rotten.

One needs a lifetime to experience and to share. Do I dare move beyond the threshold of opening the door to nature’s abundant wisdom? What truth about humanity will I find there?  But never mind… Here at least are seven reasons I have found to hope and lessons from the tree to cope with the darkness when it is near.

“Never lose hope, my dear heart, miracles dwell in the invisible.” Rumi

Lesson One: Learn to Breathe

Lesson Two: Defy Fear, Grow Against Gravity

Lesson Three: Network, Share, and Protect our Common Forest

Lesson Four: Conserve and Optimize Resources

Lesson Five: Be Inclusive, Welcome All

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Lesson Six: Think in Circles and Seasons- Balancing Being & Doing

Life gifts us waves for us to weave. It ebbs and flows when it please… and passes by so fast that only if we are attuned to the seasons, and tuned into the colors of our communities in winter, spring, summer, and autumn when the changing needles and leaves finally fall—will we be able to claim at all that we lived an awakened life –connected to the secrets whispered in elder forest circles, forever strengthening and tightening the weaves among the mycelia and the tree leaves.

In temperate, mountain, and boreal forest ecosystems where there are seasons; trees will produce very distinct rings. In equatorial tropical forest ecosystems, the rings are faint (if at all) as the climate stays relatively consistent throughout the year. Why this difference in tree rings? In forest ecosystems where the cold, dark winter contrasts a warm, sunny summer — trees grow differently; season to season. Most trees slow down their growth and activity in winter They rather settle into the cold; retreat resources inside; assess the assets they have to over-winter; and lay low, receiving, sensing the winter wind; preparing their needles, branches, and bark for snow cover; listening to the silence until spring. In slowing down, their cells bundle closer together and so in a denser state–create a distinct and formidable dark ring around last year’s growth, almost as if honoring, protecting, and conserving their present health, then to celebrate and begin again fresh the first day of spring. Also during winter, carbohydrate and water resources in trees are pulled back to the core and roots, so as to be best prepared for this new spring growth. Simply, there is a time in a mountain forest tree life to be quiet and reflective and responsive- to BE a tree. In the winter storm of COVID-19 that continues to keep us cozy inside our homes, I hope that we can take advantage also of this time to simply BE, like a winter tree. I love that one of the first protective, self care measures (besides masking ourselves like bandits and keeping physical distance) is washing our hands; literally putting our right and left hands together, almost in prayer and circling and cleansing, and purifying and honing the energy within somewhere. That is what it means to BE, and to be still like a Tree. Imagine if now, we were to really wash our hands with the same quality of meditative presence as in the practice of Tai Chi and the Tao. And when the COVID-19 tide has turned and we can shake hands and hug each other again, at last, imagine the power of our first human + human exchange—how the fresh, centered, positive energy we bring, could really make the universe again; sing. Indeed, this will be a glorious spring.

And when it is time again to DO- to be active and out in our COVID-19 free world; I hope that stripping our communities to their essential service bones, we will also now give us pause to reflect on what best businesses and practices ideally support our communities and provide real value to our healthy homes. Soon enough we will awaken from our receptive, reflective COVID 19 lair; and we will have a chance to BE-DO the right thing. So what should this new spring bring? Here we can look to the trees and to nature again, please, for advice about how to create our new utopia—our new human+nature paradise. In this active (yang), progressive, productive, creative, and tree phloem-building DO state of spring– there are three principles of the forest and nature I would now like to bring—unity consciousness, symbiosis, reciprocity.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Unity Consciousness

First, in sourcing the hidden resources of winter, sprouting, and growing its new stem—the individual tree waits for the whole forest to wake up again, to reboot the ecosystem for spring; then in one coordinated dance… zing, zing, zing… up shoots and arrives to earth all the new offspring. This principle of life to support the survival of the whole is a principle we will be faced to follow (or not) when comes the first COVID-19 vaccine to avoid a new death toll. Here we can again learn from Indigenous cultures—in stories, poems, human + nature rituals-dance; the ways to walk in this world, so as not to become too caught up again in the purely urbane, artificial, commercial, fast-paced, soul-striking marketplace trance. I believe post COVID-19 we have a real chance for the emotional intelligence and consciousness of humanity to really advance.


Second, all life in the forest–creatures big and small, are significant to forest health overall. Simply by nature of their existence and nature’s selection among others in the forest over geologic time, that’s substantive proof that every forest creature must play a critical role in the health, metabolism, and wellbeing of the forest community as a whole. Earthworm may aerate the soil. Banana slug may deliver nutrients with its slime. Blue jay may drop (and inadvertently plant) pine tree seeds. Honeybee may pollinate forest flowers. Gopher may dig a den for the fox. Beaver may build a dam—habitat for egg-laying frogs who then manage the mosquitos in those small forest pools. Trout purify with their life and nutrify by their death, the forest streams, gleaming with the fresh and local scent of native needles and leaves, fallen and now flowing with the winding waters. Symbiosis is alive and drives a forest that thrives. All living creatures matter to the forest, whether we know them or not. (sentiment of Sir David Attenborough)

Every animal and plant shows up to work-play every day automatically, offering real value to add to the community. Their barter exchange with others is mutual and beneficial to the forest entire; even if they dance as predator and prey or parasite and host and one ultimately respires. All types of relationships check & balance the other, like a well-functioning democracy. This way no group spins out of control and loses its focus on strengthening the weave of the whole. Similarly, communities who value and actively engage the talents and capacities of all its members, thrive. In the recovery and regeneration phase of our transition out of the COVID-19 crisis, it will be imperative for every local community’s self-sustaining capacity to engage in a highly synergistic Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) process. And this process would ideally, replicate a WEave, not a wave; meaning that the process is inclusive, mutually beneficial, and communally driven by the WE, rather than a one-way, pulsating wave of ME (leadership ego) promotion that simply crashes again and again on the shore in endless, hypnagogic motion. The essence of Robin Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass, speaks directly to this inclusive (WE) weaving action that not only requires communal exchange, but that also reinforces the bonds among communal beings 10-100-1000 fold, like all strong fibers used to make our blankets and clothes and keep taut our teepee home, as well, the sails in our Tiki boats wherever they now roam.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020


Finally, we need to adopt nature’s principle of reciprocity in order to re-create the natural circularity that existed before humanity began to create the concept of waste and build artifices and unnatural products that would not biodegrade or break. Where we have done damage, where we have created pollution, where we have clogged the natural metabolic streams of the planet to flush, rinse, and repeat—where we have done wrong and biological harm; we need to mind the gap, and close the circle. Many consumer-facing, product-producing companies are now wrapping their minds around and designing their products based upon circular reciprocity—the concept of creating endless life, infinitely recycled products. Bill McDonough (founder of the circular ecology/economy vision) would take the recycling narrative further and faster toward upcycling—creating more value every turn of the regeneration wheel—to recover first our human + nature balance.

Is it possible in the post COVID-19 rubble that we may finally be able to create a new global economy? If economy returns to its roots and refers back to the management of our home resources, perhaps a new bio-based economy could now naturally emerge. Yes, an economy where we rightly value nature’s goods and services the natural capitalism way. Yes, a new economy where we are more about building mutually beneficial relationships and fair trade exchanges with full bio-accounting spreadsheets of real (human+nature) costs for production, manufacturing, transport and recycling (upcycling) of goods. And yes, ultimately evolve a true bio-based (life-based) economy where we do not look at nature as a mere raw resource and commodity or human laborers as employees with numbers and time cards; but an economy (system of management) run on reciprocity—a commitment to a relationship of infinite value exchange based upon an honest recognition of the inherent worth and interdependences of all life.

The best instructor to teach this new bio-based, giving economy based on reciprocity is the natural world. Nature is perpetually gifting us—fresh, wetland-filtered water; clean ocean breeze air; new models for medicines; new biomimic designs for innovation and technology growth; new grasses, roots, shoots, and fruits; which become our daily bread—all for free, all without fee. As long as the ecosystem remains intact and not under human attack; the biosphere will regenerate, and every year give back. We do not have to take or to hoard or to lord over any natural resource or claim ownership over any land; if we orient ourselves to gratitude and give what we can; it’s amazing what healthful resources the universe brings when one unclenches his grip on life and fear of poverty or death or not receiving his fair share. As nature abhors a vacuum (Alan Watts), it’s a curious thing that more you give the more abundance seems to flow toward you and the life you life.

Many Indigenous Peoples who have lived generation after generation in relationship with nature and the land have really figured this out. As we emerge from the economic rubble of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe we can really benefit from learning the Native People’s gift giving approach to value exchange. (research TBC) Imagine if we re-created a local economy of goods & services (basic foods and essential village services) that were directly bartered or exchanged in parallel to a global (probably virtual & online) marketplace comprised of both digital (virtual) goods and (virtual) online services; as well as, physical goods, purchased in a virtual marketplace and delivered directly to your home with a delivery drone. This is one future scenario that is fast becoming our present reality… and the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this new economic paradigm. My nature’s reflection and intention here is simply that as we shift, we naturally drift toward a new economy that is conscious and compassionate and leads with an energy and ethic of fair trade, gift giving, and real calculation of nature-human-manufacturing-transport costs where money continues to insert itself as the medium of exchange. May we in re-creating that new bio-based economy value reciprocity and recognize the greater value of building right relationships and resilient communities.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Many years ago I learned about the Potlatch ceremony of the Pacific Island communities and remote Pacific Northwest villages. In the Potlatch ceremony itself the social status of individuals and families in a community are honored and elevated when they give. These cultures and this Potlatch ritual are excellent starting points for learning about the gift-giving, bio-based economy. They have adopted this sharing mentality and orientation to life—to first give, and to give abundantly and freely; trusting in an eventual return; believing unequivocally in the circularity and reciprocity of life. And when everyone shares this common ethic, the village economy works well.

If we look closely, other cultural traditions have adopted this central value of giving to sustain a village community or tribe…even my own. In the spirit of Easter week, I will share an interpretation of the Fishes and Loaves story I remember learning at the University of Notre Dame; many years ago. The true miracle (mirare- reflection, mirror on society) and message of this parable was the selfless offering by a young boy of the 6 fishes and 12 loaves during a community gathering, where people were complaining of getting hungry. As the story goes; so moved where the rest of the travelers by this boy’s gift-giving; that those gathered stopped complaining and revealed the staples of food they had packed and rationed under the saddle bags of their pack animals. By the time everyone had offered gifts of food to the gathering, having been inspired by the young boy; after the meal they found that there was an abundance of food left over.

I love this story, especially for these COVID-19 days because I believe we may discover that if we can uncover the humanity in every home– that there is enough, food, water, financial resources, emergency reserves for every human being from their previous misfortune or down-trodden life, to recover. As I have heard from my mother in some garages close to her home—stores of food and supplies from ground to ceiling—enough for a village of people that could fill an astrodome. I was reflecting on this fear-based hoarding reaction many had to the virus when the news broke out. And while walking along the seaside cliffs where I live, I just happened to look down and find myself in a rather large patch of mullein plants. I had to laugh. The Indigenous Peoples who used to tend these lands used the Mullein plant for toilet paper. And if you just take the soft, fuzzy leaves; the root of the plant will grow more back.

Suffice to say, if we truly turn toward the land and learn about the local food and natural riches our bioregions abundantly provide, then we will surprisingly soon close the human+nature divide and regain our sustainable stride, as well, our right relationship with nature where we reside. And in our very dense urban cities, we can also learn innovative ways to urban outfit citizens living in high-rises there with the highest quality natural lifestyle and nutrition by bio-mimicking these same natural processes outside the urban bounds to produce similar circular, regenerative processes to meet our needs. (e.g. rooftop gardens, green walls, algae fountains, aero-farms, permaculture waste ponds, natural parks and sanctuaries… so much more.)

Briefly, but significantly—as this is a topic to further explore… one other way to unlock the wheels of innovation to drive further, faster, forward to regain our reciprocity—our right stewardship relationship with the natural world is to reduce our production-consumption spiral of products designed and packaged with artificial plastics and pollutants. Rob Tercek talks and teaches about the vaporization of physical things and the value that smaller, lighter, more powerfully connected fewer electronic smart things brings.

Finally, Nature is not anxious. Nature just flows in cycles and streams… it simply, effortlessly goes. Life is a weave; and now is a great time to learn how to sow new future seeds.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Dedication to the 1 Trillion Trees Project

There are a little over 3 trillion trees on the planet. That’s about 400/person; but as I said earlier, its 50% less than we had before cities. How can we biodivert cities and return nature to the heart of our human civilization?  What can we do to bring nature back to you? And, the first super-simple, super-easy, super-techno thing you can do is to shift your search engine from Google to Ecosia. Ecosia converts your clicks into virtual coin that they invest in forest restoration and tree planting. Check it out. They just launched and are on their way to planting now 90 million trees. (seems 1/second) Visit One Trillion Trees project

Dedication to the guardians of the forest, Nia Tero

We are all native to planet earth; and yet Indigenous Peoples are the guardians of our vital ecosystems. They embody nature’s wisdom in their rich cultures, intergenerational communities, and earth connections. They can show us how to recover our Human+Nature health and how to well celebrate our sustainable home. Visit Nia Tero

Dedication to the Mycelia, Fungi Perfecti

Mycelia are the naturally intelligent networks of our planet. As virtual shopping and online purchasing now explodes and spreads virally—almost as fervently as the corona virus itself; the environmental footprint of packaging likely also sky rockets. The good news is that the problem of unsustainable packaging must be addressed in the new circular economy-driven world we want to emerge into at the other end of CV19. I love all the online shopping one can do for mushroom health and soil composting and citizen science engagement to help re-vitalize bee populations on Fungi Perfecti; but where did the Life Box go???? I can only now find a site for Live Box sport’s and entertainment streaming.

Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD, Natural Intelligence Media is committed to awakening Natural Intelligence in the World. She produces multimedia content — books, films, and podcasts with her creative companions that aim to inspire everyone, everywhere to live a happy, healthy, naturally intelligent life.

Visit our Natural Intelligence Website HERE.

Participate in our “Combatting COVID-19 with Compassion” Heart Campaign HERE

Listen to my Naturally Intelligent by Design Podcast, featuring strategies from animals in our world to adapt to disruptive environmental change. HERE

Listen to our Natural Intelligence Worldwide Podcast HERE.


  • Catherine Cunningham, PhD

    Mission Possible: Awaken Natural Intelligence in Our World

    Natural Intelligence

    Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD is an ecologist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and media host producing films, interactive experiences, and online multimedia for international clients who are focused on positive economic, social, and environmental win-win-win solutions to global conservation and climate change.

    Catherine has travelled, written, photographed, and filmed in 70 countries, producing creative films and music videos in support the UN Global Goals and the human+nature planetary health narrative. Visit Natural to see where her work has premiered internationally. Over 20 years, she has interviewed hundreds of global thought leaders to promote sustainable solutions to climate change and conservation in creative ways. Catherine has written numerous articles on climate change, nature, and regeneration. She’s currently writing two books: “Naturally Intelligent by Design” — a fine art science and culture book for families and “Natural Intelligence”— a guidebook for well-navigating a post COVID-19 world by following nature’s principles. Partnering with Eurovision News and Events, Catherine is also an independent media host— producing content on nature, climate, and regeneration; syndicated globally by EuroVision’s News Direct. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and Medium. She currently produces communications for the Prince Albert II Foundation and participates in programming @ the World Economic Forum on Climate Change, Nature, and Biodiversity. As an university educator, Catherine taught undergraduate and masters courses in corporate sustainability communications at Arizona State University; global sustainability at Chapman University; biology, ecology, botany, and environmental science at Denver State College and Front Range College. In 2016, she designed one of the first university courses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also online), contributing to youth action on the UN Global Goals. She also created a post-graduate program with UNESCO on the MAB (Man the Biosphere) reserves. Catherine earned her PhD in Ecosystem Science at ETHZ in Switzerland, studying climate impacts on mountain ecosystems. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters degree from Utah State in Ecology. Catherine speaks fluent English and conversational Italian. She loves creative collaboration, media production, mountaineering, outdoor sports, yoga, wellness, and travel.